Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle before him, Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) joins the 'family business' in 1934. He rises through the ranks to become the most feared and respected executioner in the country, hanging over 600 people before his sudden resignation in 1956. Living a double life as a master hangman, a humble grocery deliveryman, a friend to Tish (Eddie Marsan) and loyal husband to Annie (Juliet Stevenson), Pierrepoint's determination to become the most efficient, hence most humane executioner in the land results in him executing infamous murderers and after the war, Nazi war criminals. But the latter also shatters Pierrepoint's jealously guarded anonymity turning him into a minor celebrity. As his two lives collide, and 1950s public opinion turns against capital punishment, Pierrepoint, is ready to give it all up, but fate has other plans in store for him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A suitably sombre treatment of a sombre story, Pierrepoint is nevertheless a riveting drama, sketching out not only the salient facts of Albert Pierrepoint's life but the turmoil in which that life caused in his soul. With 608 executions behind him, Pierrepoint resigned from the list of British executioners, having achieved a darkly edged personal goal: he became the fastest, most efficient hangman in history. He had his father's and uncle's past achievements in the same line of work to compete against, and a kind of pride in his work that illuminated the task. He maintained a dignity and a non-judgemental attitude throughout, a loyal subject doing a difficult job really well. Albert only began to consider the morality of capital punishment much later in life; as we see from the film, the process of hanging prisoners was basic and the hangman's skill was critical to a humane process.
Timothy Spall is perfectly cast as the naturally serious, punctilious, part time hangman, who would occasionally share a ribald ditty in the local pub with his friend Tish, played by the soulful faced Eddie Marsan, who lends a melancholy note to the story. Juliet Stevenson is terrific as Annie, the long suffering wife, and Claire Keelen makes an impression in her small but imprytant role as Jessie, Tish's girl - until she leaves him and triggers devastating consequences for both Tish and Albert.
Danny Cohen's cleverly underlit cinematography suits the period and the subject matter, helping create the time and place in which the story unfolds. Writers Bob Mills and Jeff Pope juggle the screenplay's inner and outer layers with care and Adrian Shergold's direction is excellent, allowing us to see the hidden, repressed emotions of the characters. Like all true stories, this one is more complex and more remarkable than any fiction, and deeply moving, thanks to Spall and the entire filmmaking team.
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Aka The Last Hangman
CAST: Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Eddie Marsan, Claire Keelen, Cavan Clerkin, Christopher Fulford, Ian Shaw, Maggie Ollerenshaw, Frances Gold, Rodney Litchfield, Paul Ready, Elizabeth Hopley, Tim Woodward, Nicholas Blane
PRODUCER: Christine Langan
DIRECTOR: Adrian Shergold
SCRIPT: Bob Mills, Jeff Pope
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Cohen
EDITOR: Tania Reddin
MUSIC: Martin Phipps
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Candida Otton
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 13, 2007 (Adelaide); October 4, 2007 (Melbourne)